00 8/16/2009 9:43 PM

Posted 8/14/09 in the BENEDICT thread:

The Italian newspapers yesterday buzzed with reports that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is supposedly determined to be in Viterbo for the Pope's coming visit, with the insinuation that this would be unseemly in view of Berlusconi's widely reported extra-marital indiscretions for which his wife is seeking to divorce him.

AGI reports a response from the Vatican

It's entirely up to Berlusconi,
Vatican officials say


VATICAN CITY, August 14 (translated from AGI) - "When the Pope makes a pastoral visit, the civilian authorities who welcome him always include those who represent the Italian nation, and thus honor him with their presence. It is up to the government to decide whom these representatives should be".

This was underscored to AGI today by a Vatican dignitary who is usually part of the Pope's entourage on his trips away from the Vatican.

"It is never the case that the Pontiff refuses to meet the representatives of the Italian government, since it is his duty to welcome them and listen to them - in the interests of continuing dialog on matters of peace, justice and the defense of the values that the Catholic Church advocates for the Catholic community and in behalf of the weakest members of society," he continued.

"Therefore, if it is Prime Minister Berlusconi who will represent the national government in Viterbo on September 6, Benedict XVI will be just as happy."

Already last July, Vatican press director Fr. Federico Lombardi, had brushed aside reports that Berlusconi had been denied a papal audience on the occasion of the G8 summit In Italy, saying that it had not been requested. [Also, the Pope had written a widely publicized letter to Berlusconi, in his capacity as current G8 president, on the eve of the G8 summit to articulate his hopes for positive action by the rich nations towards the poorer ones, especially those in Africa.]

At the same time, it is obvious that governments seek to respect the Pope's opportunity for a rest period in summer, when his public activities are reduced to a minimum.

This respect is particularly dutiful on the part of the Italian government, whose representatives have more opportunities than those from other nations to meet with the Pope during the rest of the year.

Moreover, there have been no reports in recent memory of any papal audience that was denied or postponed for any reason such as those suggested by the Italian media about Berlusconi (his personal life).

An exception was Pius XII's refusal to meet with Italy's postwar Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi, who had requested a private audience to mark his wedding anniversary shortly after tensions had developed with the Vatican over some policy decision by De Gasperi's Christian Democratic government.

On the other hand, John Paul II defied widespread objections against meeting with then Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, ex-Secretary General of the United Nations, who had admitted his wartime association with the Nazis.

The Vatican said then that the Pope could not possibly refuse to meet a head of state who had been legitimately elected.

It will also be recalled that Pius XI would have been willing to meet with Adolf Hitler in 1938 when the latter came to visit Italy in order to speak to him directly about stopping anti-Catholic persecution in Germany.

But the Pope was constrained to leave the Vatican for Castel Gandolfo before Hitler arrived to avoid the embarrassment that Hitler was coming to Rome but not to the Vatican.

So many other personages judged negatively by history have been received at the Apostolic Palace with all the honors due any visiting head of state or government - from Zaire dictator Mobutu to the Sandinista Daniel Ortega whose government included many priests defiant of the Church.

"The Pope welcomes all visitors without raising an accusing finger. He is, after all, the Successor of Peter, whom Jesus pardoned even if he had denied him three times," the Vatican prelate noted.

Italian leaders, of course, do not lack for opportunities to meet the Pope if they wish to. In June 2007, for example, then Prime Minister Romano Prodi showed up to welcome Benedict XVI to Assisi the day after three of his ministers took part in a Gay Pride parade in Rome which featured terrible accusations made in public against Benedict XVI and his private secretary. [I had not previously read anything about these before - apparently, the Italian media exercised a rare but praiseworthy editorial discretion at the time, although they reported the usual 'obscurantist' rants agains the Pope.]

But Prodi's presence was seen as an act of respect intended to make up somehow for those offenses.

Another huge buzz in the Italian media these days is over a recent decision by a regional court affecting the rights of Catholic teachers of religious instruction in Italy's public schools, where an hour of religious instruction every week is mandated under the terms of the Vatican Concordat with the Italian government - and in view of Italy's history and overwhelmingly Catholic population.

Although attendance is not mandatory, 90 percent of Italian schoochildren (obviously with their parents' consent) have chosen to attend these classes consistently over the past several decades, for which they get scholastic credit. Those who opt not to attend religious instruction can choose other activities as a substitute and get equivalent credit. (By the way, the 'religious instruction' is deliberately not Catholic catechesis but rather a cultural appreciation of what Catholicism has meant to the Italian nation. For this reason, many non-Catholic children also attend the classes.)

Apparently, the court decision has to do with such credits, and with the credentialling status of the religious instructors, usually provided by the diocese but paid by the state. I can't understand all the intricacies, but the Italian bishops' conference is protesting the court decision as an attempt to do away with the religious instruction mandate, and a judiclal rejection of guidelines issued years ago by the Italian ministry of education.

I am hoping Sandro Magister will come up with a summary soon that the non-Italian public can understand and appreciate.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 8/16/2009 10:52 PM]